As the people of Fresno Pacific University begin to emerge from the shadows of COVID-19, at least enough to gather for face-to-face—or mask-to-mask—instruction, we can learn from the people of Israel who emerged from exile in Babylon.  

That was the lesson Melanie Howard, Ph.D., assistant professor and program director of biblical and theological studies, brought to FPU’s Fall Convocation August 27, in the Special Events Center on the main campus. New students, faculty and staff were welcomed during the pandemic-interrupted annual event marking the beginning of the traditional university school year. Other speakers included Joseph Jones, Ph.D., president, and Gayle Copeland, Ph.D., provost/senior vice president for academic affairs and chief academic officer, who each brought greetings; student body vice president, who read Scripture in English and Spanish; and Brian Davis, campus chaplain, who gave the benediction.

Howard was quick to admit the problem for the past 15 months has been that people couldn’t leave their homes, rather than they had been forced from their homes—still, the books of Ezra and Nehemiah show us the importance of:

  • Remaining grounded in the word of God
  • Navigating life with rituals
  • Celebrating communally

For the Israelites, this meant reading and studying the Torah, rediscovering the religious ritual of Sukkot to remember how they lived as God brought them out of Egypt and throwing a huge celebration to honor their return to their homeland.

“Like us at this moment of living amidst a global pandemic, the returning exiles were both looking forward to something that felt more ‘normal’ while simultaneously recognizing that things would never fully go back to the way that they once were. The exiles recognized that a return to ‘normal’ took time and intentionality. It took patience and hope. It took a community working together to reconstruct its identity,” Howard said.

Howard joined the faculty in 2016 and in 2021 was awarded the Nickel Excellence in Teaching Award (NETA), given each year to a member of the traditional undergraduate faculty.

PHOTO: Melanie Howard speaking at FPU’s Fall Convocation. Behind her is Joseph Jones, president.



Wayne Steffen
Associate Director of Publications and Media Relations